You’ve got the wedding thing down. Band? Check. Cake? Check. Dress, shoes? Check, check. But the marriage part? That’s entirely different. Fortunately, premarital counselors like Thomas Thompson, Ph.D., are here to help. Founded in 1989, the Montgomery-based Thompson & Associates offers a special premarital counseling program just for engaged couples. Here, Thompson tells us why counseling is beneficial and how you can properly prepare for many years of wedded bliss.
What is premarital counseling? Premarital counseling is a preventative measure to help couples talk about the things they’re going to need to talk about in their marriage, and to look at them ahead of time. Even if they don’t solve their issues in premarital counseling, it helps to give them a way to talk about them in the future.
What topics are discussed during premarital counseling? The big ones are family of origin, money, sex, parenting, communication, and conflict management. What we’re trying to do is get everybody’s expectations on the table so that they don’t come flying out of the dark six months into the marriage.
How does family of origin affect a marriage? In terms of family of origin, there are two important things to look at. One is, what did that family of origin teach you? Even things like how you say I’m sorry. One person might believe you say you’re sorry and the other person says you have to explain why you did what you did. The second is, how are we going to relate to others in our life? How often do we go to our parents’? How do we do the first Christmas? It’s important to understand our general differences so that they’re not as dangerous when people encounter them in married life.
What areas do couples struggle with most? There’s always one or two, but it changes from couple to couple. It depends on things like how old the couple is, how long they’ve been together, and whether they’ve lived together or not.
Premarital counseling is like inoculating against a disease. It’s giving couples a little of that disease so that it protects against a bigger disease.
What’s the difference between seeing a pastor and seeing a therapist for premarital counseling? They aren’t exclusive; they’re additive. More and more, even churches that offer their own premarital training are also requiring couples to do counselor work. A therapist has a much better ability to tailor the experience, whereas there tends to be a more packaged approach in a church. Sometimes it’s hard for pastors to say some of the hard things a couple needs to hear. But because a counselor is a third party who doesn’t have any other engagement with the couple, they have the ability to be more realistic about struggles. Another benefit is that if the couple enjoys the experience and they have trouble down the road in their marriage, they already have someone they trust to do that counseling work, and that’s incredibly beneficial. I’ve had it happen many times. Coming in after three years instead of waiting 10 years can make the difference in the marriage lasting long term.
How soon before the wedding should couples begin counseling? The earlier the better. Sometimes counseling helps couples understand they should wait on getting married, and that’s a success. It’s best to do it as soon as you get engaged or in the immediate months after you’re engaged.
Does premarital counseling really affect the success of a marriage? The research is complicated, but I do believe there is a correlation in that those who seek premarital counseling have better marriages.
Is it covered by insurance? Premarital counseling is difficult to cover with insurance because of coding issues. It’s not a mental illness so there’s no true coding to cover it.
By the Numbers
2–4: Number of engaged couples the practice sees each month for counseling
60 minutes: Length of each counseling session
30% lower chance of divorce for couples that do premarital counseling
30+ years: Length of time Thompson has been offering premarital counseling
Thompson’s Recommended Reading